South Carolina College

You are currently browsing articles tagged South Carolina College.

John Lafayette Girardeau (14 November 1825 – 23 June 1898)
by Dr. C. N. Willborn, formerly associate professor of Church History and Biblical Theology at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and currently pastor of the Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church, Oakridge, TN.
©PCA Historical Center, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO, 2004. All Rights Reserved.

girardeau06John Lafayette Girardeau was born as Lafayette Freer Girardeau on November 14, 1825 to John Bohun Girardeau and Claudia Herne Freer Girardeau. The parents of young Girardeau were of French Huguenot descent and, by the time of their eldest son’s birth on James Island (across the Ashley River from Charleston), possessors of a rich colonial ancestry, which included at least one Revolutionary War hero. John Bohun (a planter) and Claudia Freer were also solid Presbyterians of the Scottish type. The Holy Scriptures and Westminster Standards were the standard fare for the Girardeau children with both father and mother active in their religious upbringing.

Also important in Girardeau’s formative years were two notable pastors, Aaron W. Leland and Thomas Smyth. Leland was the wee lad’s pastor on James Island and Smyth nurtured him during his early adolescent years in Charleston. Although Leland was of English ancestry, he was of the Scottish persuasion when it came to his theology and ecclesiology. Smyth was of Scotch-Irish background and pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The lowcountry Presbyterians had from the first identified with Scotland rather than the Mid-Atlantic Presbyterians. This was no doubt true because of Archibald Stobo, the pioneering Scot who founded the earliest distinctly Presbyterian churches in the South.

Girardeau was educated on James Island and in Charleston, completing Charleston College (now College of Charleston) in 1844 at the age of seventeen. He graduated with first honors (valedictorian) as a Greek and Latin scholar. Upon his graduation, Professor William Hawksworth exclaimed to those around him, “There goes a fine Greek scholar to make a poor Presbyterian preacher.”

Girardeau, John Lafayette [14/11/1825-23/06/1898]After a year of tutoring and teaching on James Island and Mt. Pleasant (to raise money), he matriculated at the Theological Seminary of the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia (later Columbia Theological Seminary). As a ministerial student at Columbia he studied under his childhood pastor, Aaron W. Leland, and the venerable George Howe. Girardeau supplemented his seminary education by regularly attending the pulpit ministrations of Benjamin Morgan Palmer at the Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian), a short walk from both the seminary and South Carolina College. The seminarian also placed himself under the tutelage of James Henley Thornwell at the College (now University of South Carolina). Thornwell was at the time Professor of Moral Philosophy and preached or lectured regularly in the college chapel (Rutledge Chapel). Girardeau and other seminary students attended Dr. Thornwell’s addresses assiduously. Indeed, Girardeau attributed Dr. Thornwell’s chapel addresses with giving “shape and form” to his theology, which was already stoutly Westminsterian.

As a child of Claudia Herne Girardeau, the scion of South Carolina had learned to respect the poor and needy of society. During the latter years of college he had held regular meetings for the slaves on his father’s plantation, exhorting them to believe the gospel and rest upon Christ for their deliverance from sin. In seminary he held evangelistic meetings in a warehouse where the poor, enslaved, derelict, and disreputable attended. Shortly after graduation from seminary in 1848 he was ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament and embarked upon a brief series of pastorates-Wappetaw Church and Wilton Presbyterian Church-that would culminate in Charleston as a famous pastor to slaves.

In January 1854, he and his wife Penelope Sarah (“Sal”) moved from St. John Parish and Wilton Presbyterian Church (January 1849-December 53) to Charleston to assume the work begun by John B. Adger and the session of Second Presbyterian Church. The work was designed to establish a church for and of the slaves. In 1850, citizens of Charleston built a meeting house on Anson Street for the exclusive use of the slaves. After Adger’s health failed, Girardeau was handpicked by Adger and Smyth to lead the work forward. The work expanded from thirty-six black members when Girardeau arrived to over 600 at the time of the American Armageddon. He preached to over 1,500 weekly from 1859 through 1861.

zionPC_CharlestonSCIn 1858/59 the Anson Street Mission experienced a marvelous revival and in April 1859 they moved into a new building at the prestigious and prime intersection of Meeting and Calhoun Streets. The black membership was given the privilege of naming their church (which was particularized in 1858) and they chose “Zion.” Zion Presbyterian Church became famous for Girardeau’s preaching—he was called “the Spurgeon of America”—but it was also noteworthy for its diaconal ministry in the community, catechetical training of hundreds in the city, sewing clubs for the women, and missionary activity. The outreach and influence of Zion was of such public notoriety that Girardeau and the session were often criticized and sometimes physically threatened. For example, the catechetical training and teaching of hymns and psalms was so effective that some Charlestonians believed Girardeau was teaching the slaves to read for themselves (which was contrary to state law).

Pictured above right, Zion Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina.

After the War and before Girardeau could return to Charleston, a number of freedmen of Zion Presbyterian Church beckoned Girardeau to return to “the Holy City” and resume his work with them. They desired to have their white pastor whom they knew, loved, and respected, rather than a black missionary from the North. Throughout the post-War and Reconstruction years, he arduously worked amongst both black and white in Charleston. He mightily labored within the Southern Presbyterian Church to see that the freedmen were included in the church and in 1869 he nominated seven freedmen for the office of ruling elder in Zion Presbyterian Church, preached the ordination service, and with the white members of his session laid hands on his black brothers.

Unfortunately, the pressures of Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the hardened positions of notables like B. M. Palmer and R. L. Dabney brought the church to a pivotal moment. The weight of political and social issues eventuated in “organic separation” of white membership and black membership and the formation of churches along the color line. Girardeau alone dissented against the resolution at the 1874 General Assembly in Columbus, Mississippi, for which he served as Moderator.

In 1875, B. M. Palmer nominated Girardeau for Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Columbia Seminary, a position W. S. Plumer had held since 1866. In January 1876 he began his seminary labors which lasted until June 1895. During his academic career he continued as a popular preacher in the Southern Church, defended biblical orthodoxy against the inroads of modernism in the Woodrow Controversy at Columbia Seminary, labored actively against union with the Northern Presbyterian Church, served the courts of the church tirelessly, contributed many theological, ecclesiological, and philosophical articles to academic journals, and wrote several important monographs on theology, worship, and philosophy. He made significant contributions to the doctrine of adoption and the diaconate.

girardeauGrave01Girardeau and his beloved wife “Sal” had ten children who crowned their forty-nine years of marriage. Seven Girardeau children lived to adulthood while three died in infancy. Three Girardeau daughters married Presbyterian ministers, including the notable theologian and churchman Robert Alexander Webb. This pastor to slaves and theologian of the Southern Church died quietly at his home in Columbia on June 23, 1898, just a few months after his friend R. L. Dabney had passed away. B. M. Palmer wrote of Girardeau that “It will be long before another generation can produce his equal; and those, who have known him from the first to last, feel that we lay him to rest among the immortals of the past.” His body rests just a few short steps from his mentor and friend James Henley Thornwell in Columbia’s Elmwood Cemetery.

Pictured above right: The stone marking the grave of John L. Girardeau.

Tags: , , ,

Preach Christ! Preach this Gospel!

smythT_150The Pastoral Charge delivered by the Rev. Thomas Smyth to the Revs. James Henley Thornwell and Francis Patrick Mullally, was delivered on this day, May 4th, in 1860, upon their installation as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina. [This is the same church where Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is now pastor.]

thornwell02Though a brilliant theologian and teacher, much of Thornwell’s career was conflicted by his competing desire to actively minister to God’s people in the pastoral setting of the local church. Thornwell’s first service came with his installation in 1835 as pastor of the Lancaster, Waxhaw, and Six Mile Creek churches of Bethel Presbytery. By 1838 he left to assume duties at the South Carolina College, serving there as Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy for two years, until the conviction of his calling brought him again to the pulpit, with his installation at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC in 1840. One year later, South Carolina College again called upon him, now to serve as both chaplain and professor. This arrangement met the compelling interests of both callings and he remained at SCC from 1841 to 1851. A brief pastorate at the Glebe Street Church in Charleston, SC ended with a return to SCC as president, until in 1856 he accepted a call to serve as Professor of Systematic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During most of his years at Columbia he also served as stated supply at the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, until that post was made permanent in 1860, as detailed in the charge here presented by the Rev. Thomas Smyth. Rev. Thornwell died but a few years later, on 1 August 1862.

mullallyFrancis Patrick Mullally was born around 1830 in Tipperary, Ireland and taught at the Villa School in Mt. Zion, Georgia for nine years. He attended Washington and Lee University Law School and Columbia Theological Seminary, leading to his first pastorate at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC. This pastorate was apparently interrupted by the war, during which time he served as an army chaplain. Between 1865 and 1904, Rev. Mullally served in ten separate locations, with a transfer of credentials to the PCUSA in 1889, and residing finally in Pelham Manor, NY, where he died on 2 Jan. 1904.

Rev. Smyth in his pastoral charge likens the somewhat unique co-pastoral relationship of Thornwell and Mullally to that of a marriage, in which the two partners must learn to work together, to always speak and think well of each other:

It has been said that such a co-pastorship requires for its perpetuity of peaceful communion, as much grace as the matrimonial co-partnership.”

It is an apt analogy, though one we might otherwise have escaped us. Smyth also notes that in principle he disagrees with the idea of a co-pastorate, but that in this case he rejoices, given Thornwell’s gifts and abilities and in light of the freedom this arrangement will provide Thornwell in his professorial duties:

“Disapproving of it in the abstract, I rejoice, however, in this instance of such a double relation, and highly commend the wisdom of this church in securing for themselves, the community, the Seminary, and the church at large, the benefit of your practical and experimental pulpit ministrations, free from the cares of pastoral responsibilities.”

The pastoral charge presented here begins in good Presbyterian fashion with a laying of the groundwork. Smyth succinctly, yet convincingly explains the nature and order of ordination to office in the church. He states:

“Ordination does not create an office.  It does not impart fitness for an office… It does not confer authority upon the office or officers,…Ordination therefore, is the solemn ratification of this ascertained call of Christ, by His church,…   The importance of ordination is, therefore, apparent.  No one ought to take upon himself the office of the ministry without a lawful calling.”

[It is in this introductory section where a few distracting printer’s errors crept into the original text. The proof-texts provided are obviously in error when they cite Acts 45!]

Smyth’s pastoral charge surveys the scope of pastoral career, its pitfalls and challenges, but rises to it’s high point with it’s definition of the Gospel and a rousing clarion call to preach “this glorious Gospel of good news”:

“Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.  Preach the Gospel as a creed or doctrine, that it may be intelligently received by a faith of which assurance is an element and exercise, compelling to a willing obedience the heart and the life.—Preach the doctrines of the Gospel as all converging and concentrating in the person, character, work, and offices of the one mediator between God and man; in Christ and him crucified; in Christ as God manifest in the flesh, and reconciling the world unto himself—not imputing unto sinners their trespasses.”

“Preach this Gospel—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and every where, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.  Preach it in every method and variety of manner and of matter.  Yours is a model pulpit, and let yours be model preaching, and the practical exhibition of its manifold diversities of form.  Preach expositorily, textually, topically, doctrinally, practically, spiritually, apologetically, casuistically.  Many men, many minds, many tastes, and in all the love of variety, novelty, and fresh originality.  Become all things to all to win, and please, and profit all.”

Concluding the text is the charge to the people. Smyth is brief in his words to the people, yet to the point. It is interesting to note that in the last paragraph, he says his own days must surely be short. Born in 1808, he would have been only 52 or 53 years old at the time, and was but four years older than Thornwell. Yet he outlived Thornwell by eleven years and died in 1873.

It will also be noted from the title page that the larger portion of this pamphlet is missing, namely, the sermon by Dr. John L. Girardeau. The text of that sermon would have occured on pages 1-27 of the pamphlet, but is missing from the text on hand at the PCA Historical Center. Efforts are being made to locate a copy of the missing text.

Smyth’s pastoral and congregational charges serve as excellent models for pastors who may be themselves called upon to bring a charge someday to minister or people. For those who do not know the Presbyterian system well, this text provides a wonderfully brief, yet complete education into the nature and substance of ordination, pastoral responsibility, and congregational duty. In short, it is a message which well-deserves reprinting here, one which has been overlooked for too long.

To read the text of Rev. Smyth’s pastoral charge, click here.

Tags: , , ,

thornwell02In 1854, the city of Charleston, South Carolina was ravaged with an epidemic of yellow fever. Later, at the behest of the State Legislature, the Rev. James H. Thornwell, then president of South Carolina College, brought a sermon at the State capitol on December 9, 1850. The title of his discourse, “Judgments: A Call to Repentance.” On this momentous occasion, the assembled audience saw themselves as “a sovereign people prostrating themselves before a sovereign God.”—”South Carolina, by her trusted agents and chosen representatives, in her organic capacity, as a distinct political community; in the power of her honored Chief Magistrate, in the two Houses of the Legislature, and the venerable Judges of the land, presenting herself, in humility and mourning, before the footstool of Him who standeth in the congregation of the mighty, and judgeth among the gods.”

As one reviewer noted, “The leading thoughts of the Sermon are as follows: The visitations of Providence expressive of the Divine displeasure are called “judgments,” because they are universally regarded as the penal inflictions of a Judge or Ruler. This implies the conviction of our nature that there is a personal God; and if God be a Person, then all his dispensations have some purpose or design, and this design is to be ascertained by an observation of the tendency of the dispensations. The tendency of public, wide-spread afflictions is to create a sense of guilt in the bosoms of men,—to make them tremble at the anger, and dread the justice of their Judge; and so, to restrain transgression, and preserve the innocent in their integrity. There is an inseparable connexion between suffering and sin; and so strong is the conviction of the human mind upon this point, that there is always danger of misinterpreting Providence, by making the degree of suffering the exponent of the measure of guilt. All, however, that we have a right to conclude from even extraordinary suffering, is the existence of sin, and the consequent necessity of repentance. And this repentance is the duty of the spectators, as well as of the sufferers. “Except ye”—the spectators of the woes—”repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Then, following Thornwell’s delivery of this discourse, representatives from the two houses of the legislature wrote to Thornwell on December 12, 1850, requesting a copy of his discourse for publication. Click here to read the full discourse.

The words that follow form the heart of Thornwell’s discourse. They are insightful, almost prophetic words, and here I think Thornwell puts his finger on the crux of our nation’s sin, then and now. What he seems not to see, however, is that this same sin is at the root of the system of slavery and racism that so troubled the nation then and which besets us to this day. Finally, the logical conclusion of this sin is the deification of the individual, and we see that hydra-headed monster coming into all its “glory” in our time. Racism is but one expression of the sin of self-deification. Me first. My ‘rights’ over all else. What I want, rather than bowing the knee to the will of the sovereign Lord of the universe.

Judgments : A Call to Repentance

“The sins which have been mentioned, and which confessedly prevail to a melancholy extent through the length and breadth of the land, though they call for humiliation and repentance here, are, perhaps, not so appropriate to this occasion, as those which spring from the tendencies and workings of our forms and principles of government. Bear with me in briefly stating what seems to me to be a species of idolatry which cannot fail to bring down upon us, sooner or later, the righteous judgments of God. I allude to what may be called the deification of the people. They are frequently represented as the source of all political power and rights; the very fountain head of sovereignty. It is their will which makes law; it is their will which unmakes it. A supremacy is ascribed to that will which he who reads the Bible and recognizes a God that has dominion over the children of men, must feel to be shocking. They are really treated as a species of Deity upon the earth. Now this whole representation is not only inconsistent with religion, it is equally inconsistent with the philosophy upon which our popular institutions are founded. The government of this country does not proceed upon the maxim that the will of the people is the will of God, and its arrangements have not been made with a reference to the end, that their will may be simply ascertained. This legislature is not a congregation of deputies, or ministerial agents, and you have, and know that you have, higher functions to perform than merely to inquire what do the people think. I do not underrate their opinions; they must always enter as an element in sober and wise deliberation; but what I maintain is, that the true and legitimate end of government is not to accomplish their will, but to do and enforce what reason, conscience, and truth pronounce to be right. To the eternal law of right reason, which is the law of God, all are equally subject, and forms of government are only devices and expedients to reach the dictates of that law and apply it to the countless exigencies of social and individual life. The State is a Divine ordinance, a social institute, founded on the principle of justice, and it has great moral purposes to subserve, in relation to which the constitution of its government may be pronounced good or bad. The will of the people should be done only when the people will what is right, and then primarily not because they will it, but because it is right. Great deference should be paid to their opinions, because general consent is a presumption of reason and truth.

The peculiarity of a representative system is that it governs through deliberative assemblies. Their excellence is in the circumstance that they are deliberative, which affords a reasonable security that truth and justice may prevail. So far from being mere exponents of public sentiment, their highest merit is that they are a check upon popular power— a barrier reared against the tide of passion, to beat back its waves, until reason can be fairly heard. There is no misapprehension more dangerous than that which confounds representative government with the essential principle of a pure democracy. It is not a contrivance to adapt the exercise of supreme power on the part of the people to extensive territory or abundant population, to meet the physical impediments which in large States, must obviously exist to the collection of their citizens in one vast assembly. It is not because the people cannot meet, but because they ought not to meet, that the representative council in modern times is preferred to the ancient convocations in the forum or market place. It is to be prized, because it affords facilities and removes hinderances in the discovery of truth; but the supreme power is truth, and not man; God, not the creature.

Now whatever representations diminish the authority of the Divine law as the supreme rule, and make the State the creature and organ of popular will, as if an absolute sovereignty were vested in that, are equally repugnant to religion and the true conception of our government. An absolute democracy is the worst of all governments, because it is judicially cursed as treason against God, and is given over to the blindness of impulse and passion. I am afraid that in this matter we have trodden upon the verge of error—we have forgotten that the State is ordained of God, and that our relations to each other are those of mutual consultation and advice, while all are absolutely subject to Him.

In proportion as we lose the true conception of the State, we fall short of realizing in ourselves that perfection of developement and happiness which it was instituted to achieve. Hence, it is not unusual that as extremes meet, those who in theory clothe the people with the prerogatives of God, practically degrade them below the level of intellectual existence. When we cease to regard the State as a great instrument of moral education, it is not surprising that the education itself should be disregarded, and these Gods be left to demonstrate that after all, they are but men.

Let it be once conceded that government is but an organ of the popular will, the business of the statesman is very simple—it is only to find out what the people wish; and as all courts are attractive by the patronage they bestow, we may expect to see a system in operation, whose only tendency is to secure personal popularity. The ambition of Legislators and Senators will be directed to the gaining of popular favour, and whatever arts promise to be most successful, will be held to be legitimate, as they are the customs and usages of the Court, whose seal of approbation is desired. The consequences must be disastrous to all the parties concerned. There will and must be corruption and bribery. There will and must be unbecoming condescensions. The aspirants for distinction, however they may abhor these practices, and reproach themselves in stooping to them, feel compelled to resort to them as the conditions of success, and it will always happen that where the people are deified in theory, they will be degraded and corrupted in practice. Men will be promoted, not according to their wisdom and worth; not according to their ability to answer the ends of the State in eliciting the voice of reason and of truth, and securing the reign of universal justice—they will be promoted according to their pliancy in pandering to popular tastes. The demagogue will supplant the statesman—the representative be replaced with a tool.”

Click here to read the full discourse.

Tags: , , ,

Mercy Gives Rise to Atonement.

ThornwellJH_smAn important sermon by the Southern Presbyterian pastor and professor, James Henley Thornwell. The text of this sermon, as originally printed, was 72 pages long and it probably took Dr. Thornwell close to two hours to deliver this message, even if speaking at a fast rate. But getting past the length of his message, there is much here that is worth your time. It may seem to start slowly, and the reading may be challenging, but Thornwell quickly gets up to speed, and the content is good, solid theology drawn directly from Scripture. [Emphasis has been added for a key point toward the end of this transcript].

A Sermon, preached in the Chapel of the South Carolina College, on the 1st day of December, 1844.
by James H. Thornwell, Professor of Sacred Literature and Evidences of Christianity.
Published by Request.
Columbia: Printed by Samuel Weir, at the Southern Chronicle Office, 1845.


Romans 1:16.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth.”

The exultation and triumph with which the Apostle was accustomed to contemplate the provisions of the gospel show, that, to his mind, the scheme of redemption unfolded the perfections of the Divine character in an aspect of benignity to sinners, equally unexpected and glorious. The freshness of interest and intensity of enthusiasm, with which he habitually dwelt upon the Cross, were such as are wont to be elicited by a combination, in objects, of novelty and importance.—From it he had received full satisfaction upon questions which had awakened a deep curiosity and baffled the resources of his wisdom to resolve. A light had been reflected from the Person and Offices of Christ, which dissipated doubts that had painfully perplexed him, and revealed a prospect which might well endear to him a crucified Redeemer and change the current of his life. Discarding the refined system of licentiousness which renders the happiness of man a more important object than the moral government of God, and makes the distinctions between right and wrong mutable and arbitrary to save the guilty from despair, he assumes, in the masterly exposition, which he gives us, of the economy of grace, as the fundamental principle of his whol argument, the inseparable connection between punishment and guilt.—”The wrath of God,” he informs us, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”—”who will render to every man according to his deeds—unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.”

If sin be, in every instance, the object of Divine indignation; and such we perceive is the statement of the Apostle; it would seem to be impossible even for God, consistently with the perfections of His Own nature, to save the guilty from its doom. If every man must receive according to his deeds, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, the universality of guilt would seem to close the door upon every prospect of hope. Nature, at least, left the resources of her own strength, must always entertain distressing apprehensions, that perfection of government and the power of pardon are mutually destructive of each other, and that whatever, consequently, might be the mercy of God, He could hardly be expected to yield to its impulse at the expense of justice, holiness and truth. To those who are impressed with the magnitude of sin, the purity of God and the stern inflexibility of the divine law, the possibility of pardon is a question fraught with the profoundest interest and veiled in impenetrable gloom. It is the glory of the gospel to remove the perplexities of unaided reason, and to explain the method by which God can be just and, at the same time, justify those who are ungodly. On this account it is styled by the Apostle the power of God unto salvation. This expression he seems to have employed as an exact definition of the scheme of redemption. The gospel is not to be regarded as a simple revelation of the mercy of God and His ability to pardon; it is itself His power as a Saviour. The implication is irresistible that by the rich provisions of its grace and by them alone can the Lord deliver from going down to the pit; that, apart from the righteousness revealed to faith, Jehovah Himself, has not the power to receive the guilty into favour; that the mediation of Christ was the wonderful device of infinite wisdom to enable the Almighty, in consistency with justice, to save the lost. The phraseology of the text is a favourite mode in which the Apostle describes the mystery of the Cross. “For the preaching of the Cross,” he declares in his first Epistle to the Corinthians—”is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To the same purport is a passage in Isaiah, in which Jehovah Himself solemnly refers to the grace of the gospel as constituting His strength to save from death. The disobedient and unprofitable, addressed under the symbol of briers and thorns, are exhorted to make their peace with God and what is remarkable they are directed to do so by “taking hold of His strength.” Now as faith in the Divine Redeemer is the only means to tranquility of conscience; as there is no peace to those who are strangers to the blood of the covenant, Jehovah’s strength, is evidently the same as the atonement of His Son. There lay His power to save; and independently of that, He could only be as a devouring flame to briers and thorns. “Who wold set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together; or let him take hold of my strength that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.”

The Apostle, in his Epistle to the Galatians, seems to me directly to assert, that no scheme could have been devised, independently of the work of the Son of God, by which salvation could have been effected. “If there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily, righteousness should have been by the law; but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” No method, in other words, could have been adopted, even in the plentitude of infinite power, by which God could acquit the guilty without the righteousness which His law demands’ and as such a righteousness is wholly impossible to human obedience, it must be secured by the mediation of a substitute. God cannot dispense with the claims of justice. His power to save is moral in its nature and cannot be exerted, cannot, in truth, be said to exist, while the law pronounces the sentence of death. The reasoning here is precisely analogous to that which succeeds the declaration of the text. The Gospel he pronounces to be the power of God unto Salvation, because “therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”

Such language must appear to those enigmatical and strange who view Christianity as little better than a republication of natural religion. Unaccustomed to the awful convictions of the malignity of sin and the holiness of God, which the enlightened understanding, through the pressure of conscience, is driven to adopt, they can perceive no difficulty in absolute forgiveness, and cannot consequently comprehend the mystery that restraints should be taken from the power of God, by the incarnation and death of the Redeemer. The necessity of the atonement, as assumed by the Apostle, is to them inexplicable jargon. The low views in which they indulge themselves, of the whole work and offices of the Saviour, are to be ascribed to imperfect apprehensions of the government of God. Their fundamental error consists in denying the need of satisfaction—in contemplating the Gospel in any other light than as “the power of God unto Salvation.” It is but a single step more, and the atonement itself is either formally discarded, or else frittered away through the subtle distinctions of philosophy and vain deceit. To appreciate aright the death and sufferings of Christ we must have a proper, if not an adequate, conception of the “needs be” into which He Himself resolved His undertaking; a needs be, which extended much farther than the fulfillment of prophecy; which had itself given rise to the predictions, in having given rise, in the depth of eternity, to the “counsel of peace.” We must enter into the meaning of the great Apostle when he measures the ability of God as a Saviour, by His power to provide a justifying righteousness.

The two great principles, on which the doctrine of atonement rests, are the inseparable connection between punishment and guilt, and the admissibility, under proper restrictions, of a surety to endure the curse of the law. The unpardonable nature of sin; the practicability of legal substitution, these are the pillars of the Christian fabric. In the first we acknowledge the indispensable necessity; in the other, the glorious possibility of an atoning Priest. In the first, we are taught the wages of sin; in the other, that they need not be reaped by ourselves. If the first were true to the exclusion of the second, eternal darkness would settle on the minds of the guilty; it is the second which opened the door of hope and furnished a field, magnificent and ample, in which God might display the resources of His wisdom and unfold the riches of His grace; be at once a just God and a Saviour.

The contemptuous confidence with which Sophists and Skeptics have denied the propriety of vicarious punishment, have evidently proceeded from the foolish apprehension that God, like ourselves, is bound to forgive upnn a confession of the fault. If these arrogant disputers of this world could be brought to feel the truth and severity of the first great principle on which the atonement has been stated to rest, they would cling to the second as the only anchor of hope; and instead of expending ingenuity in abortive efforts to undermine its strength, they would probably lay their learning under tribute to defend its fitness, while they permitted their heart to rejoice in its benignant aspect on the family of man. Let the position be firmly established that God can, by no means, clear the guilty; that sin must necessarily be punished, and all objections to the doctrine of suretyship would be given to the winds. To cling to them, under such circumstances, would be, with deliberate malice “to despise our own mercies.” The expectations of an easy pardon, secretly cherished, if not openly avowed, is the real source of pretended difficulties with “the righteousness of faith.” Hence, in discussing the doctrine of atonement, the foundations should be deeply and securely laid, in developing the Scriptural account of its necessity. Clear apprehensions upon this point would serve, at once, to define its nature, determine its extent, and put an end to cavils against its reality and truth.

The necessity of the atonement, it may be well to remark, is only the necessity of a means to an end.—The end itself, the salvation of the sinner, is, in no sense, necessary—that is the free and spontaneous purpose of Divine grace. Had all the tribes of men been permitted to sink into hopeless perdition, no violence would have been done to the nature of God, no breach been made in the integrity of His government. But the end having been determined, the death and obedience of Christ were indispensably necessary to carry it into execution : God could not receive the guilty into favor while the demands of His law were unsatisfied against them.

That the object of the atonement was to generate mercy in the Divine Being, to beget the purpose as well as the power to save, is the gratuitous caricature of those who have assailed the work, in order to deny the Divinity of the Redeemer. As well might it be pretended that the channel, which the torrent forces for itself among the rocks and declivities of the mountain, is itself the source of the impetuous current it conducts; or that the air, which daily transmits to us light and heat from the sun, is therefore the parent of these invaluable gifts. The mediation of Christ and the mercy of God are related to each other as cause and effect; but in an inverse order from that which is stated by Socinians; it is mercy that gives rise to atonement and not atonement that gives rise to mercy. The scriptural statement is: “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His Only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitation for our sins.” It was not, therefore, the design of the atonement to make God merciful–He was merciful before; it was not to generate the purpose of salvation; that had existed in the bosom of Deity from all eternity. It object was to render the exercise of mercy consistent with righteousness, to maintain the stability of the Divine throne and preserve the integrity of the Divine government, while outlaws and rebels were saved from the fate which their transgressions deserved. It is not in the nature of God to take pleasure in the death of the wicked; it is equally remote from His nature to disregard the distinctions of moral conduct and treat the wicked as the righteous. The atonement, therefore, was necessary, not, as Socinians slanderously report that we affirm, to touch the Divine Mind with compassion for the miserable; but, supposing the compassion to exist, to prepare the way by which it might be freely indulged with honour to God and safety to His Law as well as blessedness to man. The Gospel springs from mercy; and all its mysterious arrangements are only the contrivances of infinite wisdom, instigated by infinite grace, to acquire the power to save.

To continue reading this sermon, click the link below:
A Sermon, preached in the Chapel of the South Carolina College, on the 1st day of December, 1844.
by James H. Thornwell, Professor of Sacred Literature and Evidences of Christianity.
Published by Request.
Columbia: Printed by Samuel Weir, at the Southern Chronicle Office, 1845.

Tags: , , , , , , ,